So Long, NaPoWriMo

blue chicago 2

National Poetry Writing Month is at an end. My inspiration for today’s poem is a prompt from April 26th, which challenged us to respond to an “almanac questionnaire” and write a poem based on our responses.

Almanac – Spring 2020

by Jan Brown

The mayor is angry again, and her ire
will not land lightly on the masses–
those uncivilized civilians
who amass in the sunless park
sans social distance. How very long
it has taken us to come together!

And what a sense of timing.

Our bungalows stand proud
behind rows of crocus, indestructible hosta
and evergreen shrubs. Down the street,
an American shorthair hunts
for the missing betta fish
who committed suicide overnight.

Was his bowl too small, or was he
just a badass jumper?

Our elderly neighbor also passed
last night. She used to sew
dresses for proms and quinceaneras,
fantasy laden gowns for hopeful girls.
But there are no celebrations now.
No dream dresses this year.

This year, she crafted face masks
from the sparkly scraps of the past.

No one believes in Prince Charming
anymore. No man can save us
except Dr. Fauci.

Across the berm, freight cars stand
silent sentry, but do not stop the artist
who plies his trade across the stranded steel.
They pause, perhaps with stocks of PPE
more valuable than gold. I wonder
if the painter senses precious cargo.

Or do they carry caskets assembled
in haste by overwhelmed carpenters,
artisans, factory technicians, precision
robots, worn out and weary?

Sunday drives alone–sixty miles
to fields of corn and soybeans
exuding rays of quixotic hope,
longing to be transformed into fuel
or exported to faraway kitchen tables
and faceless factories.

Will we really need more ethanol to fuel
Sunday drives on lonely highways?

Dusk falls with a silvered mist, nearly
indistinguishable from our dreary day
were it not for a sliver of moon.
Police disburse anti-social non-distancers
to the various communities,
corners and crevices whence they came.

Hoping they can be drunk and disordered
at home like the rest of us.

Home. Once a haven.
Will anyone ever sleep again?
Ironically, we warm to cool blue
nightlights–TV pictures of a skyline
grateful to those who
keep it lit.

Looking for peace, hope
and love wherever
we can find it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

#LightItBlue – Landmarks lit in honor of essential workers

#LightItBlue – Slide show of Chicago buildings lit to honor essential workers

NaPoWriMo – covidku

I’ve missed a few days of NaPoWriMo. My muse had the sniffles, and I thought she might succumb to her symptoms if I didn’t spend all my energy taking care of her. Or maybe I was just lethargic. In really badass pain. Too tired to raise my head. All of the above.

Meanwhile, I and my kind have been writing haiku and senryu as we observe our place in human history vis-à-vis Covid-19. Some are calling our pithy poems covidku.

mona lisa
pandemic
taking off her mask
is the new first base

near extinct
spotted in its habitat
last pack of TP

ugly faded t-shirt—rockin’ DIY mask

oh, grocery deliverer
why hast thou
forsaken me

pandemic
they are sheltering together
must be love

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Photo: sumanley on pixabay.com

NaPoWriMo Day 8

Welcome to National Poetry Writing Month, Day 8. Today’s challenge is to write a poem that uses a line from another poem as a “seed” for our new poem. I chose a line from a Sylvia Plath poem, THREE WOMEN: A Poem for Three Voices.

silhouette of the birds on branch

I Am Not Ready

by Jan Brown

I am not ready for anything to happen
the fat round birds of spring
are feasting on the seeds
amongst the grass blades
they tweet and trill and twitter
merrily returning
to their work-in-progress nests
frittering time and twigs and twine
content in ignorance
that anything is happening

I am not ready for anything to happen
the songbirds chirp and warble
but they cannot penetrate
this ringing in my ears
this sound of locusts swarming
how they consume the harvest-ready crops
across the finally fertile African plain
what will the humans have left to eat
the noisy swarm flies on to other countries
content with bellies full
(Do they have bellies?)

I am not ready for anything to happen
The sparrows perch upon the roof
and flutter wings as they converse
they cannot make up their minds
to go or to stay, to sing or be silent
they are not required to shelter-in-place
they are free to fly away from this plague
which, if it pierced their tender society,
would mean certain death

I am not ready for anything to happen
I do not want to be taken by this plague
while my house is a mess
Can you please wait until I clean and organize
my clutter? At least until I mop the floor?
I am not ready for anything to happen
there is a desperate feeling
that I am not finished, but finished with what
I do not know.  I only know that
I am not ready for anything to happen

NaPoWriMo 2020 – Day 5

Our prompt today is based on Jim Simmerman’s “Twenty Little Poetry Projects,” a set of twenty instructions to construct a fantastic poem. I’m not sure this poem is all that fantastic, but it was interesting to write. It reflects my current dystopian view of the world. Every day, I read the news and feel as though I am watching a poorly directed sci-fi movie, in which the starring actors are untalented amateurs. I wonder what the future holds.

bean jude joshua pix

Summer 2020

by Jan Brown

The cool streets of Chicago are as quiet as an old English village.

No offense to English villages. I love England. Except that my ancestors emigrated to the colonies 300 years ago to get as far away from England as they could.

Except for that, I love England. Nuthin’ but love for ya, Your Majesty.

On Michigan Avenue at Adams Street, the listless lions that guard the Art Institute are silent at night. Black wreaths surround their majestic necks in memoriam to the fallen.

In the heat of summer days, they prowl Grant Park to keep the baseball diamond empty and the band shell silent.

The lions are not enough.

Restless suburbanites drive to the city. They take family photos in Millennium Park to share with envious followers on Instagram. They stand in front of The Bean and snap each other’s reflections.

They stand only three feet away from the next clump of tourists. Chacun a son gou. Whatever floats your boat.

They’ve heard the stories. They don’t believe.

The Bean bends down and envelops them, gobbles them up.

Tourists and teenagers. Men and women. The Bean doesn’t discriminate.

Is it genetic engineering? Or just natural selection? Okay, artificial selection. Either way, the human race will improve if stupid people don’t wander among us, reproducing at will.

But…this is not how we imagined our species would evolve.

We are told to go nowhere. But fit humans are everywhere, walking, jogging, biking, skateboarding.

The joggers are persistent. They run half the length of the city, through once-busy streets and officially-closed walking paths. Once they run through “the wall,” they taste the sweetness of success, the saltiness of their sweat. They feel invincible.

Until they feel the sweat of the next jogger spray their bare skin. Their maskless face.

The Bowman and The Spearman come down from their granite pedestals at the entrance to Grant Park and gallop along the paths packed with walkers and joggers and bikers and skateboarders.

Their majestic horses rear up on back legs, challenging the nearness of invading humans.

The Bowman and The Spearman lived here long before the colonists. They lived in harmony with the land, cultivating and caring for it without need of ownership.

The colonists brought diseases, racism and cruelty. Centuries later, they are still bringing it.

Their horses don’t like to be crowded.

They will trample the dim-witted humans.

The cries of the fallen will pierce the silence. They will scream in electric colors that cover the jogging path in chaos.

Jan will perform triage, tagging each fallen jogger with plastic triangles: green, yellow or black.

She doesn’t like the black ones.

The ozone layer is melting over the city. If we venture out, we confront the smog, the plague or the angry icons of our disappearing culture.

Which will we choose?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Image by Jude Joshua from Pixabay

The Way of Love – Go

phone painnt lysergic -2- haiga-2-

The lowly phone can be a Godsend in these trying times. It can even relieve adolescent isolation, assuming your teenagers are willing to use that little green icon at the bottom of their smart phone screen. Most young people communicate via text. I saw a TV show in which the daughter asked her mom for advice about a boy who had texted her several times. Mom said, “Why don’t you call and ask him out?” Her daughter gasped in horror and said, “Call?!?! How rude!” Etiquette may have changed in the decades between mother and daughter, but the human voice is still an effective cure for isolation.

Jesus calls us to go out into the community, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When He was asked by the Pharisees to identify the greatest commandment under Jewish Law, he responded by giving them two new commandments:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  –Matthew 22:37-39

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered to individual customers by coming into the home. These wonderful volunteers put their love for their neighbors to practical use. They’d chat, socialize and do a wellness check.  Now they provide contactless* delivery to protect the health of the recipients, who are typically among the most vulnerable to the virus, as well as the volunteers themselves and their families.  The organization finds other ways to provide human contact and perform wellness checks, primarily by phone.

I’m as guilty as that teenage daughter of not picking up the phone, so I will have to start using the little green icon myself.

 

* Prior to the pandemic, “contactless” referred to credit cards that could be waved in front of a merchant’s card reader device at checkout, without swiping the card or otherwise making contact with the device. I think it’s going to be one of those words on a very sad list that Merriam Webster will publish in 6-12 months under a title like “How the Covid-19 Pandemic Forever Changed the English Language.”

Televangelism in the Time of Coronavirus

oil painnt

I occasionally watch Joseph Prince on TV.  Prince is the senior pastor of the New Creation Church based in Singapore. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am not a big fan of the “prosperity gospel” proclaimed by megachurches, and I am skeptical of any preacher who gets rich through his work.

But I appreciate that Rev. Prince’s sermons are Bible-based. Unlike some other televangelists, he appears to have a deep scholarly understanding of the Bible, as well as the intricacies of the languages in which both testaments were written. His Biblical interpretations often (not always, but often) resonate with me, and his enthusiasm cheers me and lifts me out of pain.

However, there is a dangerous undercurrent that runs through the prosperity gospel. It is the premise that things will get better if we just keep the faith. It is not just that our faith sustains us spiritually, but that our faith physically protects us.

As recently as March 15, when other churches and public venues had closed due to the Covid-19 virus, Rev. Prince advised his membership that they should still come to church–a densely packed auditorium of thousands. He instructed his members, as well as his TV viewers, to anoint themselves with oil every day, praying as they do so. He claimed this would protect them from the virus. (At least he didn’t instruct them to buy the oil from him, as another TV preacher hawks “miracle water” on air!)

On the other hand, his church’s website advertised that the auditorium and children’s classrooms were cleaned and “fogged” with anti-microbial agents. Even his own church knew that anointing with oil was not the answer! And they ultimately knew that cleaning the premises was not a panacea, either. By March 29, their church services were suspended.

Whew.

 

 

The Way of Love – Bless

bless2 by Prawny from pixabay copy

In the midst of this horrific crisis, there are small stories of good news. So many people are blessing others, both their neighbors and people they don’t know at all. For example:

  • Across the country, many low income students rely heavily on meals provided by their schools. Some districts are continuing to distribute meals during school closures, but some are not able to do so. Volunteers have been filling the gap. Some of these volunteers are themselves hard hit, namely restaurants whose dining rooms have been closed. CNN reported that Café Gelato in Myrtle Beach is providing take-out lunches to any school aged children. In addition to its own funds, the café has received donations from as far away as California to keep its lunch program going.
  • Pre-med students are caring for vulnerable seniors and helping frontline medical professionals with households that suddenly have elementary schoolchildren self-isolating. At the University of Minnesota, two students started a service, and three days later 280 students were volunteering! University of Nevada students are shopping for the elderly and are managing a GoFundMe account to cover expenses for those who can’t afford the essentials.
  • New York Yankees hitting instructor, Rachel Balkovec, had to self-isolate after two team members were diagnosed with Covid-19. She decided to use her free time by researching charitable organizations, making small contributions ($5/day) to causes that would help alleviate some of the suffering. She started by donating to a food bank and discovered that her $5 could provide 25 meals, because the food bank buys in bulk. She started a GoFundMe to increase the power of the donations and has added other non-profits after researching each organization. Rachel is the first female hitting coach in major league baseball, and this would have been her first season. But she said she doesn’t feel cheated; she just feels lucky.

For more information on these and other blessings:

CNN: Here are some of the heroes arising from the Coronavirus pandemic

NYS: Out of Yankees Coronavirus quarantine, a good deed by hitting coach Rachel Balkovec

 

 

 

Verse of the Day

crocus painnt

When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
‭‭–Psalms‬ ‭94:19

The cluster of anxieties that we, the whole human race, now share seems hopelessly inconsolable. Yet every day, our spirits are lifted in some small or large way, by events both major and mundane.

How am I consoled?

  • by the neighbor who visits three stores to find me supplies
  • by another who visits multiple stores for multiple homebound seniors
  • by the store manager who calls to ask if I’d like her to deliver my items (even though she’s on vacation)
  • by the nearness of spring, the return of flowers and birdsong
  • by the three-month tax extension (hooray!)
  • by the books I’m reading and the stack I have yet to read
  • by the poetry, photography and humor of my social media friends
  • by the thought that both Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass not one, but two, new bills to help us all get through this
  • by the live-streamed voices of people praying together

My voice is praying for you, dear readers, and your families, that you stay healthy and that your spirits are lifted up.